War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At The Brink; Interview with Robert McNamara, 1986 
Part of War and Peace in the Nuclear Age.
When Robert McNamara moved from president of Ford Motor Company to secretary of defense in 1961, he brought his very active management control and systems-planning philosophy to the Kennedy administration. In his interview conducted for War and Peace in the Nuclear, McNamara recalls how he rejected the doctrine of "massive retaliation" in favor of "flexible response" in order to raise the nuclear threshold and increase the United States' ability to wage limited nuclear and non-nuclear warfare. He outlines the exhaustive review and overhaul of programs he and his analysts conducted early in the Kennedy administration. He rejected not only massive retaliation but also SIOP-62, the blueprint for the use of nuclear weapons in the event of war; consistent overestimates of Soviet nuclear and conventional capabilities; and the very concept of first-strike force. Initially, McNamara embraced a city-avoidance policy and missile programs that would create a menu of alternate strategies to avoid all-out nuclear war. Realizing the infeasibility of limited nuclear war, he turned to the idea of "assured destruction" and focused on building a deterrent around survivable second-strike weapons that could inflict unacceptable damage on the aggressor. By the time he left the Defense Department in 1968 to become president of the World Bank, McNamara had spearheaded significant shifts in both military policy and the structure of U.S. strategic nuclear forces--a structure that remains largely in place today.
- War and Peace in the Nuclear Age
- At The Brink
- Program Number
Interview with Robert McNamara, 1986 
- Series Description
The first atomic explosion in the New Mexico desert on July 16, 1945, changed the world forever. This series chronicles these changes and the history of a new era. It traces the development of nuclear weapons, the evolution of nuclear strategy, and the politics of a world with the power to destroy itself.
In thirteen one-hour programs that combine historic footage and recent interviews with key American, Soviet, and European participants, the nuclear age unfolds: the origin and evolution of nuclear weapons; the people of the past who have shaped the events of the present; the ideas and issues that political leaders, scientists, and the public at large must confront, and the prospects for the future. Nuclear Age highlights the profound changes in contemporary thinking imposed by the advent of nuclear weapons. Series release date: 1/1989
- Program Description
In October 1962, the Soviet Union and the United States are at the brink of nuclear war, the 13 most harrowing days in the nuclear age.
“I remember leaving the White House at the end of that Saturday and thinking that might well be the last sunset I ever saw,” recalls former Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara of Black Saturday, the day the Cuban missile crisis pushed the world to the brink of nuclear war. Aleksandr Alexseev, Soviet ambassador to Cuba at the time, recalled, “We and the Cubans decided that, in order to avoid a United States invasion, we should supply Cuba with missiles.” The US effort to overthrow Fidel Castro at the Bay of Pigs was an expression of President Kennedy’s disbelief about the missiles in Cuba while it surprised Soviet leader Khrushchev according to his speechwriter,Feodor Burlatsky. Major General William Fairborne, speaks about how “We loaded whole blood and a hundred coffins onto the carrier Iwo Jima.” Looking back on those 13 days, former Secretary of State Dean Rusk reflects, “...we’ve got to find some way to inhabit this speck of dust in the universe at the same time.”
- Asset Type
- Media Type
- United States. Dept. of Defense
- Massive retaliation (Nuclear strategy)
- Single Integrated Operational Plan
- Flexible response (Nuclear strategy)
- Warfare, Conventional
- Wilson, Harold, 1916-1995
- Minuteman (Missile)
- Eisenhower, Dwight D. (Dwight David), 1890-1969
- Nuclear warfare
- Nitze, Paul H.
- Deterrence (Strategy)
- United States. Central Intelligence Agency
- Gaulle, Charles de, 1890-1970
- Nuclear arms control
- Kaysen, Carl
- Warsaw Treaty Organization
- Mutual assured destruction
- Polaris (Missile)
- United States
- First strike (Nuclear strategy)
- Kennedy, John F. (John Fitzgerald), 1917-1963
- Alsop, Stewart
- Antimissile missiles
- Brown, Harold, 1927-
- United States. Air Force. Strategic Air Command
- Kosygin, Aleksey Nikolayevich, 1904-1980
- Soviet Union
- Nuclear weapons
- LeMay, Curtis E.
- North Atlantic Treaty Organization
- Johnson, Lyndon B. (Lyndon Baines), 1908-1973
- Washington, DC
- War and Conflict
- Global Affairs
- McNamara, Robert S., 1916-2009 (Interviewee)
- Publication Information
- WGBH Educational Foundation
- Chicago: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At The Brink; Interview with Robert McNamara, 1986 ,” 03/28/1986, WGBH Media Library & Archives, accessed July 22, 2018, http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_82317190244B46168DFDFB0314E8E7B8.
- MLA: “War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At The Brink; Interview with Robert McNamara, 1986 .” 03/28/1986. WGBH Media Library & Archives. Web. July 22, 2018. <http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_82317190244B46168DFDFB0314E8E7B8>.
- APA: War and Peace in the Nuclear Age; At The Brink; Interview with Robert McNamara, 1986 . Boston, MA: WGBH Media Library & Archives. Retrieved from http://openvault.wgbh.org/catalog/V_82317190244B46168DFDFB0314E8E7B8